The DeAndre Hopkins situation is, first and foremost, a lesson in NFL economics. In the end, Arizona couldn’t get anything for the star receiver it made a blockbuster trade for three years ago—and that most certainly isn’t an indication that he can’t play anymore nor that he might not have value to another team.
It’s that he didn’t have value … at $19.45 million.
The Cardinals were never going to pay him that. Neither were the other 31 teams. So that left Arizona to put Hopkins on the trading block at the start of the offseason, and wait. And wait. And wait. The Cardinals gave other teams permission to talk to him and his representation (he technically doesn’t have an agent, but financial adviser Saint Omni speaks for him in negotiations). They kept taking cash off their asking price, and were even willing to buy a draft pick as part of it.
All that led to Friday’s release of Hopkins, putting the 11th-year receiver, who turns 31 in a week, on the market. My guess would be that the market bears something around half of what he would’ve made on his now terminated deal in 2023, with some incentives to get him closer to being whole. But at this juncture of the offseason, even getting there could be a challenge. Here’s a little more on what’s behind Hopkins, and potentially ahead for him, too.
• The Cardinals were giving any teams who wanted to talk to Hopkins permission to do so. Two teams that got such permission, the Chiefs and Bills, spoke to Hopkins and Omni, and those two were the only two that engaged Arizona in trade talks. So the interest in giving up a pick or two to get Hopkins was pretty tepid.
• Arizona’s initial asking price was a second-round pick and another asset, but by the end, it was willing to part with him for a lot less than that. And my sense is it’d have considered picking up a chunk of his salary (obviously the higher the pick, the more it might give) to get, say, a top-100 pick. But, again, there simply wasn’t interest in paying Hopkins top dollar and giving up a Day 2 draft pick for him.
• Hopkins’s camp tried to push Arizona to pick up more money, but there was nothing really compelling them to do so without a premium pick attached to the deal. This wasn’t like the Brandin Cooks or Allen Robinson trades, where the Texans and Rams, respectively, were dealing with guaranteed money, and picking some up meant getting to not pay the rest.
• Kansas City made progress toward a deal, but things went a little sideways when Odell Beckham Jr. got $15 million in base pay from Baltimore, making Hopkins feel like he should land at least that much, given that Beckham didn’t play last year. The Chiefs wound up giving free-agent left tackle Donovan Smith a deal structured similarly to the offer they made Hopkins, which will make it more difficult for Kansas City to circle back.
• The Bills, similarly, were willing to do a pay-for-play sort of deal loaded with incentives. My feeling is that it leaves them in the same place the Chiefs are with Hopkins—the only way it happens is if his price comes down.
And if you add all that up, I think we get one of two conclusions. Either Hopkins finds someone to pay up and takes the bag. Or, he takes less to chase a ring with Kansas City or Buffalo, with the idea that putting together a full, healthy 2023 could burnish his legacy and perhaps set up one last payday next March.
That said, there’s a healthy divide on exactly what Hopkins has left. I asked one veteran team executive what’s still there, and he answered, via text, “Not much. He can’t run anymore.” Another answer was pretty different—“He’s still a good player. Good route runner, big, physical target that can play a ball in the air. He’s still a threat.” And a third played both sides of it.
“Still great hands, he is not going to separate, not much of a deep threat, but very strong, and makes contested catches as well as anyone in the NFL,” the AFC exec said. “Does not love to practice—I can’t imagine that’ll get any better. And when things don’t go well, you’re always gonna be leery, All right, what kind of drama are we gonna get from this guy? When things are great, he’s great. When things go south, his true colors show a little bit.
“But he always shows up on game day. He’s gonna have to go to a team that knows what they’re getting. You cannot expect a perfect-attendance type of worker.”
That’s why, to me, it’s imperative that Hopkins goes to a place that a) won’t be overly reliant on him (either as a player or in team leadership) and b) has a strong locker room that won’t be pulled the wrong way if things turn sour. Remember, there’s a chance Hopkins is just where Julio Jones was two years ago, when Jones was traded from Atlanta to Tennessee. And if that’s the case, the team trading for Hopkins probably will have buyer’s remorse. There, of course, is also the chance that a change of scenery could bring the old Hopkins back.
What we know is by the end in Houston, Hopkins was banged up enough to where he barely practiced at all during the season—and that was three and a half years ago, and before he started missing time due to injury. While over his first eight NFL seasons, he played in 126 of 128 games (plus six of six playoff games), he’s missed 15 of 34 games (six due to a PED suspension) the past two years.
Generally, those trends don’t reverse themselves. Which is one reason why, exciting as the idea of acquiring Hopkins might sound for certain fan bases, interest has been very tepid from teams.